By Angelo Parlove
It didn’t light up the headlines for most residents, but the City of Saline implemented a nifty planning ordinance last summer aimed at developing challenged land in the city.
In July 2016, the city council approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance, which is a zoning classification that allows residential and non-residential buildings to be combined in a common project.
Many municipalities use the PUD to allow homes, shopping centers, parks and even sometimes light industrial to be built in a contained development. Communities further use PUD to incorporate single and multi-family dwellings into a diversified neighborhood concept.
While including these many types of land use, the PUD is supposed to also foster open spaces in any common project.
“Mayor [Brian Marl] was instrumental in asking us to move forward and get the PUD drafted and written,” City Superintendent and Engineer Gary Roubal said. “It encourages development and use of fragile or hard to build on lands, and it gives developers another tool to work with to obtain their goals and objectives.”
When considering the new ordinance, the city hoped to foster development on marginal land on Maple Road and along US-12 which posed challenges to developers. Fast forward to February 2017, a development team is now looking to utilize the PUD to bring an innovative housing project to Saline on about eight acres of land at 600 North Maple Road.
A project team led by William Godfrey, who is the principal at Three Oaks Development and Advisory Services in Ann Arbor, plans to bring a multi-family development containing 34 units, which will consist of 10 single-family homes, eight duplexes and two community buildings which will hold eight more units.
The mixed development will feature a selection of custom designed homes that allow individuals with disabilities to live on their own. Other residences will also be marketed towards people without disabilities.
“We have been working on a rather unique form of housing that we found has tremendous amount of need right now: housing that allows people with developmental disabilities to be able to live independently,” said Bruce Michael, an agent for the project team.
The location for this project provides close proximity to cultural, retail and other services needed by people who will live there, Michael further said.
“Communities that project an image of exclusivity don’t impress me. I think that successful communities try to find ways to engage all of our citizens and make all our residents feel welcomed and embraced,” Mayor Brian Marl said. “I believe this proposal is very innovative, is very cutting edge.”
The North Maple Road development will be the first time the city reviews a site plan application under the PUD ordinance. Site approval will require a multi-step process that needs affirmations from both the planning commission and city council.
A preliminary PUD plan is first reviewed by the planning commission and then sent to city council, which is followed by a final PUD plan which is again reviewed by the planning commission and also requires final approval by city council.
“We don’t have any true approval authority on this matter,” said Bill Beardsley, chairperson to the Saline planning commission. “We’re merely a recommendation body to the city council.”
As the city tackles the PUD for the first time, with the planning commission taking the first crack this week, it will look to navigate through the intentions behind the ordinance. “It’s a tool that many municipalities are using to enhance flexibility,” Beardsley said. “The real charge for this commission is figuring out what that means.”
The planning commission will need to address issues of mixed uses, density, setbacks and forms of deviations, all the while enhancing the open spaces that are supposed to be emphasized under the ordinance.
Beardsley said he was concerned about the open space at the 600 North Maple Road project. “On this particular site, the open space you’re trading for doesn’t feel open to me. It feels like a mix of various nooks and crannies in the property,” he said. “I have a concern, but at the same time I understand this is a very unique property with some significant constraints.”
As the developers look to put 34 units that features amenities like decks, driveways and small yards for flower gardens on only eight acres, enhancing open spaces poses difficulties. The project is also challenged by significant wetlands and a cellular tower on the property.
“This proposal has a lot of deviations that need a lot of consideration,” Beardsley further said. “This is a very good one for us to review.”
The planning commission considered the preliminary site plan for the development for the first time at its Feb. 22 meeting, where it postponed action until the March 22 meeting to give commission members additional time to develop clear recommendations for city council.
“It would be more beneficial for city council to receive very specific, direct opinions from this body, not leave anything open-ended or ambiguous,” said Mayor Marl, who also sits on the planning commission. “I think this is an outstanding candidate for this type of approach. I do want us to be very thoughtful and very strategic.”